Palestinians and rights groups have denounced Israel’s decision to prevent the entry of seven French officials into Israel owing to their support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, saying the move is an Israeli attempt to punish the delegates for their political beliefs.
A 20-member French delegation, which reportedly includes members of the European parliament and mayors, was planning to enter Israel next week in a bid to visit imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti.
However, the Israeli government announced on Monday that seven members of the delegation would not be allowed into the country.
Israel amended its entry law in March, allowing Israeli authorities to deny entry visas to activists who support boycotting Israel or its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has used the law to deny entry to a string of activists in recent months.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said on Tuesday the denial of entry visas for individuals calling for a boycott of Israel was “contrary to democratic principles”.
“It places a political position as a consideration for preventing the entry of foreigners into Israel and the occupied territories. Those who want to enter Israel certainly do not have to align themselves with the current government’s position on the issue of the occupation,” the group said in a statement.
“Freedom of expression is not only the right to express oneself, but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even to opinions that anger the majority in Israel,” it added.
The BDS movement is a Palestinian-led nonviolent campaign aimed at pressuring Israel to adhere to international law and to grant equal rights for Palestinians. Israel has attempted to stamp out the movement for years.
‘A dangerous escalation’
Israeli daily Haaretz identified those being barred from entering Israel as European Parliament members Pascal Durand and Patrick Le Hyaric; French MP Clementine Autain; mayors Azzedine Taibi, Eric Roulot and Patrice Leclerc; and Head of the French Communist Party Pierre Laurent.
Autain released a statement following Israel’s announcement, calling the decision “outrageous”.
“Should seeking to implement the UN and anti-colonisation resolutions be legitimate grounds for Israeli authorities to issue a prohibition on visiting their territories, let alone to French elected officials?” said Autain.
“How can a state that claims to be a democracy issue such threats?”
She added that Israel’s decision constituted a “”dangerous escalation that France should not accept”, and demanded that French authorities intervene.
Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, told Al Jazeera that the officials were being barred from the country owing to the “utmost hostility presented by this delegation to the state of Israel”.
“Every country is free to decide who will enter its borders and to not allow people in who sympathise and express solidarity with a dangerous terrorist and murderer,” he said, referring to Barghouti, a prominent Fatah leader serving five life sentences.
Nahshon noted that the members were being banned in part for their political activities supporting the jailed Palestinian leader.
“They can express solidarity with Marwan from France; they don’t need to come here for that,” said Nahshon.
Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, told Al Jazeera that the delegation was one of several in recent years that have attempted to visit her husband in prison.
Last year, 16 French mayors also travelled to Israel to visit Barghouti, but were prevented from entering the prison.
Fadwa Barghouti said Israel’s decision to prevent the entry of the officials was “part of Israel’s punishment and failed efforts to isolate Marwan from his prominent role in Palestinian society and politics”.
‘Israel doesn’t want anyone learning what’s happening’
The delegation had also planned to visit Salah Hamouri, a French-Palestinian dual citizen and human rights activist arrested by Israel in August.
Ola Hanieh, a legal assistant at the Palestinian rights group Addameer, where Hamouri worked before being detained, told Al Jazeera that the group was expecting that the delegation would be prevented from accessing the Israeli prisons, but did not envisage the officials being denied entry into the country.
“But it’s not so surprising,” said Hanieh.
“Israel doesn’t want to open their prisons to the world and they have always tried to prevent this kind of international solidarity with Palestinians, especially with political prisoners.”
Hanieh said that this latest incident was a part of Israel’s “war against BDS”.
“Israel is punishing (the lawmakers) for their political activities and their support for Palestinian rights,” she said.
“Israel doesn’t want anyone learning about what’s happening here in Palestine.”